10 Months?!?

10 months. Has it really been 10 months since I left home? It doesn’t seem possible, but the calendar doesn’t lie. I have a Peace Corps calendar hanging in my room. I also have a dry erase calendar on my wall too, thanks Megan! Anyways, I went through and marked the important dates- 10 months, 11 months, 1 year in Africa, halfway, etc. It is such an amazing feeling to look at the calendar and see my accomplishment every month for just being here.

Month 10. I’ve been busy dabbling in many projects. I attended a P.C. Permagarden Workshop in April and am now a member of my school’s Garden Committee. I was also appointed to the Library Committee and Fundraising Committee. Committees are a funny thing at my school. The management of my school just appointed the members and chairs of the committees. End of discussion. I wanted to stand up and tell them why don’t they ask for volunteers. Then the members will actually be interested and invested in the success of the committee. But if there is something I’ve learned in the past few months, it is to pick your battles. So I’ll leave the process for committee selections for another time.
The Library Committee hasn’t met yet. We did have a library. However, due to an increase of grade 1 learners this year, the library has become a ‘classroom.’ It’s not really a classroom; there are no desks or chairs. The learners sit on the floor with their books in their laps. One of my colleagues wants to fundraise to build a library, so maybe we will have a library coming!

Fundraising. The Fundraising Committee met last week. We are holding a raffle and market day this week to try and raise money. We sold raffle tickets last week. Then we are using that money to purchase the gifts to be raffled. It defies any logic to raffles, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Since we know how much money has been raised selling tickets, we can purchase items ensuring a profit. For the market day, we are buying snacks in bulk and then selling them during lunchtime. I am excited to see how this works and if we will make a decent profit.

The past few weeks I’ve also been busy helping my learners write letters to students at Our Lady of the Elms Elementary School in Akron, Ohio. I contacted the Elms back in November to set up penpals, They wrote us in February and the letters arrived at the beginning of April. I just mailed our responses at the beginning of May. When I started this project I thought it would take us two weeks. It turned into 4 weeks worth of efforts. It still amazes me how long things take in Africa. I am so proud of my learners though. They truly did an amazing job. I wish I could post the letters on here. One boy in my class wrote, “Do you love Jesus? I love Jesus. I wish he could be my dad.” Haha.

I’ve also been attending the sports competitions for my school. The local schools compete in soccer, netball, and volleyball. I am teaching a group of about ten 7th grade boys how to play volleyball. When we play against other teams, I also teach the other teams. Volleyball is such a new sport to the rural villages that we are starting with the basics- no more then 3 hits, rotating, and don’t punch the ball. Ooh the punching. It’s so annoying. The ball will be coming and they just stick a fist up and punch it. And it NEVER goes forward. Last match I told them if they punch the ball, I would punch them. Of course they all laughed. One boy said, “Miss you don’t use the stick. I don’t think you will punch us!” He had me there.

The last activity I’ve been busy with is called Grass Root Soccer. This is a program started out of Cape Town that is geared towards kids ages 10-19. I am using the program with 20 grade 7 learners. We meet every Monday and Wednesday to play games and discuss HIV/Aids. It’s a really fun way to talk to the kids about life choices and the hardships they face. This first group will be graduating soon, and then my counterpart and I will start up with a new group of kids!

That’s all for now. I’m excited to be back blogging. Check back soon for more updates. And thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me in my Peace Corps service so far, and will continue to support me. THANK YOU!!!!

Grade 5-A

Grade 5-A

playing a review game

playing a review game

It's a little blurry, but thanks mom for the stars above the chalkboard!

It’s a little blurry, but thanks mom for the stars above the chalkboard!

Girl's Playing Netball

Girl’s Playing Netball

Check out the high grass!

Check out the high grass!

Thanks mom for the chalkboards!

Thanks mom for the chalkboards!

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I’M BACK!!!!!

I’m back! Have you missed me? As many of you know, I took a short hiatus from writing my blog. I can’t believe I haven’t written in 4 months! I’m not even going to try and fill in the gaps or make excuses as to why. However, I will provide a short description of my service over the past few months. The first term of the school year runs from January through March. It was the most intense 3 months in South Africa so far. I faced many challenges, both personal and professional, and at the same time made some of the best memories of my service.

As every teacher knows, the first year is the hardest. But imagine your first year teaching with large and over-crowded classrooms, students who don’t speak English, and for the first time ever you are asking the kids to respect you, instead of fear you. Phew. It’s been rough. The first 6 weeks were by far the worst. I struggled every day to communicate with my students and to establish a basic classroom management plan. Transitioning the learners from a corporal punishment mindset to, well, no corporal punishment, wasn’t easy. And it’s not over yet, but it’s getting easier.

The first week of school was amazing. They were perfect little angels. Then they realized they weren’t going to be hit or beat, and they slowly started to test me. Then they seemed to all come undone at once. Of course, they eventually realized there are still consequences for their actions. But it took them much longer then I expected. And not all of them have come around yet. But they will, and soon I hope!

I would like to let you all know that I PROMISE I will be blogging much more often. You don’t believe me? Just you wait and see. Pretty soon you will have so many entries to read you won’t know what to do with yourself!

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Pictures from Drakes

Right before leaving for our hike!

Right before leaving for our hike!

Baboon!

Baboon!

Day 2, the spot we stopped for lunch

Day 2, the spot we stopped for lunch

Looking out from the cave we slept in

Looking out from the cave we slept in

our tents in the cave

our tents in the cave

View from the cave campsite

View from the cave campsite

We made it!

We made it!

Road leading into Lesotho and the Sani Pass

Road leading into Lesotho and the Sani Pass

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Ukhahlamba- Drakensberg Mountains

Hello everyone!! My network has been experiencing many problems but I finally made it to the library to type up a few blog posts. However, I can’t add pictures, so those will be added soon. I’m sure you’re getting used to my African usage of soon- in the next few weeks!

Over Christmas break my friends and I went to the Drakensberg Mountains for an awesome hiking and camping trip.The Drakensberg Mountains are called Ukhahlamba in isiZulu meaning barrier of spears. We camped in the mountains for 5 nights. It was one of the most intense adventures I have ever been on. We trekked 66 km in 6 days and ascended (and the descended) 1600 m. I am sweating just thinking about it now.

Our first day was the worst. And by worst I mean the hardest. About 1 km into the hike we needed to take a rest. And by we, I mean I. I was usually the one to call the rests, but I really don’t think anyone cared. The first day we lost the path and then just free climbed up a grass mountain, where a baboon was waiting for us at the top! I can’t begin to tell you how steep the climb was; we were on our hands and knees for about two hours. It was insane. But fun. Then a huge thunderstorm snuck up on us. When I say snuck up, we saw it coming. I recall talking about how cool it was we are so high up we can see the rain coming. But it came so fast! One second we were looking at it, the next we were being drenched. And then it got cold. So cold.

After waiting the storm out, we set up camp. I was supposed to wake everyone up at 4:30 the next morning. However, my tent had a little visitor during the night- a mountain lion!!!! I have never been so scared in my entire life. I think he was just curious though, oh and smelled the tuna cans which were in the trash bag in my tent. He, or maybe she, just kept rubbing along the tent and then swatting at it when I hit the tent. Maybe I should explain that better. I kept trying to scare him away by hitting the tent. But then he started to swat back, and I decided it was best to stop. Oh and my tent-mate kept falling back asleep and wasn’t much help! About an hour of this and I finally fell back asleep. But needless to say, this is why when my watch alarm went off in the morning, I wanted some more sleep. Nobody cared though when we finally got up at 5:30.

I won’t detail every day of our trek because that would just take too much time. The second night we actually slept in a cave we stumbled upon! And we were so lucky because it was thundering and hailing. The third day we had to cross rock slides, and dodge about trying to find the trail. Most of the time the trail was overgrown and you could barely make it out. Sometimes you couldn’t find it at all. But we always managed to get back on the trail. The third day we actually stumbled upon a road which wasn’t on our map. We saw all these SUVs with tour guide stickers. Finally we flagged down an SUV had got out our map. We needed directions to Lesotho. Except when we asked which way to Lesotho they said, “You’re in Lesotho!!!!” I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. We were about 5 km ahead of schedule. I don’t know how that happened. Then they (the SUV) said they were headed to the Sani Pass Lodge and they took our packs for us! It was only about a 10 minute walk and without those heavy packs it felt like 2 seconds. Once we got to the lodge/pub we had a much deserved cheeseburger and beer. Oh, it was so delicious.

The terrain on the way up and way down changed drastically. At the top we saw mountain goats and wild horses. At the bottom we were met by baboons. The coolest part though was walking through the few hundred meters where there were geo-crystals laying on the ground. They were everywhere!! The trails we took are very rarely travelled and so we found some amazing crystals- the kind you would buy in a giftshop!

Hiking the Ukhahlamba Mountains was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about myself. I tested my limits everyday and I succeeded. Throughout the trip I never told myself I can’t. My mantra became- one step, two step, one step, two step. And then I would look up and be astounded by the views. I hope that everyone who reads this can one day trek through the Drakensberg Mountains. I know I can’t wait to go back!

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More Pictures from Term 4

My deputy principal and I at training

My deputy principal and I at training

My community counterpart and I at HIV/Aids training

My community counterpart and I at HIV/Aids training

At the Indian Ocean!!!

At the Indian Ocean!!!

I helped to slaughter a chicken! (when I say help, I plucked feathers)

I helped to slaughter a chicken! (when I say help, I plucked feathers)

My sister and I preparing dinner

My sister and I preparing dinner

My principal and I at Thanksgiving dinner

My principal and I at Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving in South Africa!

Thanksgiving in South Africa!

My sister with her Christmas present!

My sister with her Christmas present!

Snakho puzzled by hot wheels...

Snakho puzzled by hot wheels…

Sweetie and Snakho about to open their Christmas presents! (Hot Wheels and Minne Mouse!!)

Sweetie and Snakho about to open their Christmas presents! (Hot Wheels and Minne Mouse!!)

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End of Term 4

I’ve been MIA on my blog and I’m sorry! I’m going to put up some pictures from the end of the term. (The pictures are slightly out of order, but its hard doing this on a phone!) And then I promise I will stay on top of my blog! Starting with my Christmas and New Year’s adventures in South Africa.

The first two weeks of December I spent in training workshops- math education, HIV/AIDs training, and more on safety and health in the village. The in-service training, IST, was really helpful and I picked up a lot of good information and resources for the coming year. And lets be honest, living in a hotel for two weeks had its perks… showers, running water, no washing dishes!! I have no complaints. After training, eight of my friends came back to my home. We dropped off our business casual clothes and packed our bags for a five-night hike through the Drakensberg Mountains.

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Pre- Lobola Party!

Lobola. In the Zulu culture there is this tradition known as lobola. It’s basically like a bride price, but not so scary sounding. Both families sit down and negotiate the number of cows needed for the woman’s hand in marriage. Nowadays, the price is negotiated in number of cows and also cash. It’s a way for both families to come together and forge a new relationship. It’s also proving to the woman’s family that the man and his family can support her. Before the lobola is paid, the groom-to-be comes to the woman’s house bearing gifts. All these steps must be completed before a wedding can occur and it takes anywhere from 1 year to 5 years!
I went with my family to one of their cousin’s home a few weekends ago. Her fiancé and his family were bringing gifts. This happens before lobola is paid. It’s a way to let the family know they are still working on getting the lobola paid. At least that’s what I took away from the conversations. We woke up at 6:30 am to catch the bus that passes by our stop at 7:45 am. Of course, at 8:45 the bus still hadn’t come, so then we got a ride. It was pouring down rain and pretty miserable waiting out by the tar road!
Once we finally arrived, we helped prepare the lunch. I kept asking what I could do to help, but everybody was reluctant to give me a job. Finally, I was given the task of peeling the butternut squash. Well, that only lasted about 5 minutes. I don’t know if you have ever tried to peel a butternut, but it’s really hard! They took the knife away from me shortly after I started. In fact, I’m not sure I even finished peeling one squash!
Around noon, the groom-to-be and his family showed up singing outside of the gate. The father of the bride has to give approval to let them in. Sometimes this can take several hours, but since it was raining and cold they only waited about 20 minutes. Then all the gifts were paraded into a rondavel. Everybody was singing and it was such a festive event!
Once in the rondavel, the gifts are given to the bride and her family. The gifts range from oranges to rice to blankets, beer and pots and animals. They brought a goat. And I guess when you give animals they have to be dressed up in clothes. So the goat was dressed up in clothes and scarves. My sister told me that sometimes they bring horses and even those are dressed in clothes!
Once all of the gifts were in the rondavel, grass mats were laid out and the mamas and gogos sat and sang. Then the younger girls started to dance and sing, including me. My Zulu dance isn’t up to par yet, but I’m working on it!
So first the mama of the bride sat down. Everyone was singing to her and she was given a blanket, a dress and a headscarf! If she accepts the gifts, then the process continues. And she accepted! Then she got up and did a little dance to show her approval.
This gift giving continued. The bride and her sister/ maid of honor were next. They entered the hut and sat opposite their mom on the grass mats. The bride held an umbrella with handkerchiefs pinned on, as well as panties! Haha It was really funny. Then they each received a blanket, dress, and headscarf. There was more singing and the gift giving continued!
The mom of the groom passed out the gifts. Every sister, auntie, and gogo of the bride’s family received a blanket, dress, and headscarf. After receiving the gifts, the person did a little dance to say thank you. There must have been 30 gifts given out!
At one point the man’s family started singing a song that went something like this- “She’s going to cook for us…. She’s going to clean for us… She’s going to wash for us…” and then the woman’s family returned with- “He’s going to buy us cars… He’s going to buy us cell phones… He’s going to buy us TVs.” Haha it was really funny. These traditions are still so strong even though technology is starting to reach the villages. As I was sitting there I was imagining this tradition 100 years ago- when skins were given instead of cloth, and other things like that. I think it’s awesome that even those times have changed, the traditions are still important.
At one point in the hut when a name was called almost everyone erupted into tears. I had absolutely no idea what was going on and thought maybe they were laughing? Well, come to find out, the bride-to-be’s sister was killed a few months ago. Somebody missed that memo…. It was super awkward and I felt so bad for her!
To be honest, I’m not sure if the men of the family receive gifts. I would assume so, but I left the hut before that happened. I went to help finish cooking and ate. I was getting hungry!
I’m so grateful to my family for bringing me to these events. I love to meet more people in the community and to learn about the Zulu culture. Sometimes they get boring, but at least I get to practice my dancing and keep looking for my rhythm. It has to be around here somewhere!

Future groom's family waiting outside the gate

Future groom’s family waiting outside the gate

Walking in with the gifts, while singing and chanting traditional songs!

Walking in with the gifts, while singing and chanting traditional songs!

Mama receiving her gifts!

Mama receiving her gifts!

inside the rondavel

inside the rondavel

The goat!

The goat!

future bride and her sister- check out the umbrella with the panties haha

future bride and her sister- check out the umbrella with the panties haha

My auntie receiving her gifts!

My auntie receiving her gifts!

My sister in the dress she was gifted!

My sister in the dress she was gifted!

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